SPRINGFIELD – Illinoisans have been able to register to vote at their local Secretary of State office for the past 10 years, but lawmakers are finally making it official.
For almost a decade, Secretary of State offices in Illinois have been a two-way stop for drivers and voters: They could get or renew their drivers license and register to vote, a system known as Motor-Voter.
Senate Bill 90 would make that practice permanent. State law lists Secretary of State offices' as "temporary" voter registration offices.
Nathan Maddox, senior legal adviser to the Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, said Illinois had just overlooked the law.
"It was one of those things where the practice evolved, it was working very well and somebody noticed that we forgot to change the law," Maddox said.
The measure unanimously passed the Senate and is on its way to the House. State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, sponsored the House version of the measure. Franks said under the bill, the Secretary of State offices would receive applications under the Motor-Voter law and then send the applications on to local county clerks.
St. Clair County Clerk Bob Delaney said the Motor-Voter law had helped his county gain more qualified voters on the registration rolls.
"This is good because the DMV is the No. 1 source of getting people to register to vote," Delaney said. "I think is a great help to us, so I'm all 100 percent in favor of it."
The new proposal doesn't change much, but rather tweaks the way voter registration is handled at the SOS facilities. State workers now just send the registrations to the state. The new version of the law would send those registrations to local offices.
"It's a matter of practice that turned out to be more efficient for us to simply accept the voters' registration applications and to forward those applications to the local election authorities, then they'd register the voters and perform all the roles of a registrar than having our employees do it," Maddox said.
The Motor-Voter law has been stirring controversy since lawmakers in Illinois passed the measure to ease voter registration, first in 1995 for federal elections only and then in 1996 for all elections. Critics have cited the measure as a root for voter registration fraud. But Franks said he doesn't want to re-debate the issue. He said his proposal would simply make a "temporary" practice to be permanent.